Views From the Morville Lych Gate


The lych gate is of course the corpse gate, the covered entrance wherein the dead might be laid until a funeral could take place in the parish church. In the past there was often a several day wait for this essential ceremony, during which time the deceased must be shielded from bad weather, robbers and worse.

This particular lych gate stands on the path to Morville’s parish church of St. Gregory.  Morville, itself, is a small hamlet on the main road between Much Wenlock and Bridgnorth, and like Wenlock has a monastic past, although the church is all that remains of this period. I suspect that the fabric of the actual monastery may well have been re-purposed in the building of the next-door Morville Hall, which began hot on the heels of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1540s.


In Saxon times the place was a thriving manor, and after the Norman invasion of 1066, continued to be so, its existing church and associated  lands bandied about as pieces of valuable real estate in deals between kings, earls and churchmen, its native inhabitants bound by fetters of superstitious dread and the obligation to provide wealth and labour for their overlords.

The Norman earl Roger de Montgomery took over Morville (along with most of Shropshire) in 1086. Here he had built a Benedictine monastery, an outpost for his more prestigious Shrewsbury Abbey some twenty miles away. He also had Wenlock’s Saxon priory remodelled on a monumental scale, and ordered the building of numerous other religious houses in every adjacent small community across the county.

I do not think this extensive building programme had much to do with piety. This was first and foremost about stamping Norman authority over the land. It was also an overlord’s means to control people, the wealth they created, and by the ordering of good works from the wealth accrued, so ensure his own place in heaven. It was his insurance policy in an era when everyone lived with a mortal terror of hell and the devil. As Baldrick in Black Adder might say it was a very cunning plan – political, physical and psychic control all of a piece – a top-down wealth management strategy.

If you go inside the church you may see, as you will in many old churches, the evidence of the psychic tyranny. The present building dates from the 1100s. Between the column arches on both sides of the nave, serpents slither down – an early medieval manifestation of ‘fake news’ perhaps? Imagine having them breathing down your neck every Sunday from infancy to grave. There was no opting out of the experience. Your very soul was in peril should you try to, and anyway this and the other snakes are endlessly hissing at the horrendous cost of becoming an outcast.


Even when the service is over – the mysteries of it conducted in a language you do not know, you are sent on your way by this jolly trio, just to reinforce the sense of threat for the rest of the week:



Today, the church in its country churchyard and the nearby hall  are quintessentially scenic. My senses tell me that this is a lovely spot. But I confess, too, that increasingly I struggle with the rustically picturesque and the meaning I take from it.



For one thing, I still detect traces of susceptibility. The view of the hall, though presently owned by the National Trust, is still likely to induce a fit of the Downton Abbeys…P1010953

…that ultimately distasteful sense of nostalgia for a fake past of benign lords and grateful retainers. We may have Henry VIII to thank for loosening a little the stranglehold of the ruling elite, and broadening the class of major players to include merchants and professional men, but nearly five hundred years on, most of the country is still owned by small and powerful factions including the monarchy.

The fascinating thing is most of us don’t seem to notice, or realize how the way land continues to be controlled affects our lives in critically fundamental ways – the cost of a home – to buy or to rent – and the acceptance of ever-rising property ‘values’, the acceptance of mortgages for life. It is not for nothing that these holdings are referred to as ‘land banks’, or that any release of land for development is minutely managed to ensure maximum return from high priced, often poorly built, overcrowded properties.

We no longer have to plough milord’s fields, or give him our tithes in wheat and eggs, or bow to his whims, and tug forelocks, but the vestiges of feudalism are alive and well and residing in Britain, and more particularly, idling in its well-worn seats in the House of Lords, currently the focus of ‘a bit of a scandal’ as reported by the Electoral Reform Society. Of course we could do something about all this – if we really wanted to – if we stopped romancing about the past and started planning for a present that embraces everyone’s needs. It’s an interesting thought anyway.


Thursday’s Special: Traces of the Past

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

49 thoughts on “Views From the Morville Lych Gate

  1. Fascinating thoughts . . . . we are certainly creating a world where the gap between the have-nots and the haves is getting bigger 😦

    btw do you think the Lych Gate unique to the UK. can’t recall what I have seen in other northern European countries?

  2. I smell the Levellers in your writing Tish – tut tut – and whose to challenge the Dukes who have carved up the bits of London that the Monarchy Crown Estates has not consumed. It takes more than fear of the devil as we see in our post Reformation age – the Law is on the side of wealth – the gap is as big as ever – and who cares now that we can fritter our energies on psychically stultifying tv, social media and ogling the rich list. All that aside I thoroughly enjoyed your writings and the density of history therein. Lych gates are a lovely last vision of earth p.s. I have never watched Downton Abbey for all the reasons above but I love to go where Saxons did not fear to tread!

  3. “Between the column arches on both sides of the nave, serpents slither down – an early medieval manifestation of ‘fake news’ perhaps?” The more things change the more they stay the same. Isn’t ‘fake news’ was what they charged Galileo for propagating?

  4. Another post rich in history, image, Farrell politics, and lovely language. I didn’t know that was the purpose of lych gates: I don’t encounter many on the beach or in the bush and my local churches don’t sport them.

    1. I’m thinking the lych gate belongs to a very ancient construct, maybe older than the Saxons. Tied in with concepts of the ghost road – the paths along which we once carried the dead.

  5. Wonderful piece of well-written history and the photography is so striking, I felt as if I was standing within the areas photographed. One in particular struck me, as it looked more like a painting than a photograph (the church with the clock in the tower). You’re a very talented photographer. (I was going to say, you must have a superb camera, then I remembered the true story of a famous violin player due to perform at Carnegie Hall – kind of way back, could have been Isaac Stern? but doesn’t sound right, somehow.) The NY Times introduced him thus: it’s not (name?) you are going to give a standing ovation to, tonight, but his famous Stradivarius violin. The man came on stage, played one piece and received an enthusiastic standing ovation and encores. He proceeded to smash his violin, shocking the audience into silence, then said, “Now, ladies and gentlemen, you did not applaud my violin, but my skill with one – I bought this piece of junk for $25 on the way here. I will now continue with my Stradivarius, thank you.) The moral of the story is, do give credit to whom it is due. However great a car, it’s only as good as it’s operator. Thanks again for the wonderful photography.

  6. Thank you for adding that little reminder of modern (and not so modern) reality. We don’t have official “lords and ladies”, but we might as well have them. Our “corporations” are essentially the same thing, minus the forelock tugging.

  7. Tish, I am in love with that first capture, the green foreground and the absence of colour on the building in the background. Just wonderful! Thank you for this entry!

  8. Love this pensive post Tish. You are churning out some beauties lately, always making me stop and think. As you know I once lived in a Republic and that hasn’t turned out particularly well either – monarchy vs corrupt dictatorship. I know which I’d rather have, though the fact that the fat cats are getting fatter doesn’t sit well. My former landlord and land owner put up the rent of our house by 50% when we vacated it. 50%!! You really have to wonder where locals can actually afford to live.

      1. I feel like I need a holiday, somewhere warm and somewhere relaxing. No meals to cook, no streets to explore, just a pool, a lounger and a pile of good books to read. (Not at all like me).

      2. Having just been and enjoyed all those things, I’m thinking I need to go right back there – as long as I can go without passing through Birmingham airport whose baggage retrieval hall is intent on gassing all arrivees with aircraft fumes while making them wait an hour for their bags…

  9. I enjoyed that very much, as well as your thoughts on our proper place in the world. I think the comment on ‘corporations’ has it right; and there I was, thinking it was just bad customer service…

    1. They go together, don’t they – corporations and bad behaviour re customers – she says grumpily after foul experience in Birmingham airport. Glad you enjoyed the read.

  10. What a beautiful place. It reminded me of the parish church and lych gate at Cuddesdon, in Oxfordshire, where I trained during a year at the theological college there (I’m from the US). Great, thoughtful essay – appreciated your perspective and love the history!

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